From The Bottom Up: A Cross-Atlantic Filmmaking Journey
This isn't some self-aggrandizing venture. Anyone with a profound awareness of a life-changing experience thinks that their story needs to be told. This is simply a quest to document the beginning of something...
In 2005, a filmmaker from Bayville, New Jersey was approached with an incredible opportunity. Imagine being a struggling up-and-coming filmmaker in a saturated American independent film scene. One day, you are offered a blank check to organize the beginning of a movie studio that would shoot exclusively in Africa. You are essentially commissioned to write, direct, and produce three films. You will coordinate with people on the ground in Douala, Cameroon and establish a team of locals willing to invest in their own futures. You will create three feature length films and spurn the creation of hundreds of others. Christopher Baldi was up to the task. He assembled a team of aspiring somebodies and a small group of Americans headed to Central Africa.
Or more specifically, why Douala? The answer is part coincidence and geographical but very calculated. The proposal was made by a Cameroonian citizen living in Manhattan. Douala is both the region's economic and artistic center with the reputation of being Central Africa's San Francisco.
Geographically, Cameroon is Nigeria's neighbor to the south. "Nollywood" produces the second most films yearly of any market in the world, beating the United States, coming in second only to India's, "Bollywood". Despite it's rich cultural identity, Douala is home to zero operating theaters or movie houses. Most were controlled by French entities that have since pulled out. Empty theaters are being filled largely by Pentecostal churches now.
Back to the team: most of them arrived in Douala in April '06. What was an inspiring dream soon became a stalled nightmare; production funds weren't arriving, promises made by the producers proved to be empty, and optimism was dwindling. The equipment, enough to simultaneously shoot three feature length films, was stuck in shipping containers at the ports in 100 degree weather. All of the guys had given up jobs and opportunities in America and doubts were creeping in collectively. Some drank and self-medicated, others lost control of who they were. They shed junk food pounds and lied about their well-being to mothers and/or girlfriends.
Incredibly, although unaware at the time, they were engaging in an experience that would have a profound impact on their lives.
Finally, in June, the equipment showed up. With it, a small amount of desperately needed production funds were received. The guys took off running. Dozens of people showed up to their castings. Most just regular people who took the day off from work to be there. The buzz about these odd Americans in town had reached a crescendo. They were filmmakers now. The guys cast their first film, "Man On The Bottom" and they motored towards day one of shooting.
Shooting started and was wrapped in the relative blink of an eye. This breakneck pace was welcomed by the team, but their struggles to get to the first day were invaluable. The time they had spent there, and the locals who had become their friends, undoubtedly added an African perspective to a script written in America.
Landing back in New York was something that brought mixed emotions. On one hand they had done the unthinkable. The team finished principle photography on a feature film shot entirely in a foreign country, with limited self-funding and inexperienced actors. And they did it all in two weeks.
On the other hand, the exhausted group had stretched their meager budget as far as it could go, for as long as they could, and had to return home immediately after the shoot wrapped. Back home, they were forced to resume the American way of life in order to pay bills and make ends meet. They scrambled to find employment and maintain enthusiasm for the project. By this time the original producers were completely out of the picture. As the first cut of the movie gained some festival attention across the US, the writing on the wall was coming into focus: time to move on.
All of the guys find themselves today in jobs relating to the entertainment field. Certainly though, paying bills has never led any of them to a road away from adventure. It will always be inside of them. Obviously, having hope to return isn't motivation alone. However, believing that a good idea remains a good idea forever can motivate the employed and comfortable to leave it all behind again. This is the impetus for the new documentary, "From The Bottom Up".
"From The Bottom Up" is not just a story about American independent filmmakers. It is a story about embarking on something that isn't easy and the people that come together in the face of tremendous hardship.
Also it is a story about Africans and their own dreams, about empowering people through vivd story telling-- something that has been rich in African culture for thousands of years. Finally, it is a story about premiering a film in Cameroon, shot entirely in Cameroon, for the people of Cameroon.
What are the funds for?
What is unique about this plan is that it will simultaneously fund two projects: finally finishing and premiering "Man On The Bottom", the feature shot in 2006, and making "From The Bottom Up", the documentary detailing the journey from the moment the team was hired up to and including its world premiere. Two Seater Films will organize a trip back to Douala with the mission of establishing buzz and finding a venue for premiering their movie. Along the way, they will be shooting the highs, lows and in-betweens for the documentary.
Prior to the premiere, "Man On The Bottom" will be given a proper post production treatment including audio enhancement and color correction. Take a look at the trailer:
But simply updating "Man On The Bottom" is not the mission entirely. Premiering the film in Cameroon is a dream that the team has had since the first day they signed on. Unforeseen obstacles will arise almost daily, but this crew's dedication will never diminish.
Needs (amounts are approximate):
flights - $7,500+
necessary shots and medications - $2000+
hotels and food - $2500+
traveling expenses - $1250+
incidentals and security - $1250+
production expenses - $3500+
Any funds that we attain over the stated goal will absolutely be put to good use in a transparent way. No one is looking to personally gain. Extra money could be used for an HD up-convert, closed captioning, a greater budget for the documentary including the ability to ship more equipment, to print copies of "Man On The Bottom" for distribution, and also will go towards the premiere and guaranteeing all original five guys get to Douala for it.
Risks and challenges
Shooting in Africa is never free of danger or surprise. There are always risks involved. Traveling isn't easy. Checkpoints mean bribes in many cases. Equipment needs to be properly protected. Malaria and other diseases are prevalent. Cell phone service is shotty. The water is undrinkable. And sometimes people just do not want to let outsiders in.
Besides those obvious risks there are many challenges. Cameroon is considered bilingual but French is certainly the dominant official language. Our group are all english speakers. The interest in our project and our vision might not have the same support it once did from the people in Douala. We must always be keenly aware of the government and try to partner with them and the local universities. Locations might be uncontrollable. The equipment might break with no one available who is qualified to fix it. Many, many, many things could hamper this project. But, if something unforeseen or undesired happens, it just becomes part of the story.
The team knows the risks and the challenges. But, they have done it before. They went to Cameroon naive and wide-eyed. They left with a superb understanding of what they were doing, what they had accomplished, and what they are yet to accomplish. That's how they will tackle any challenges, with experience and devotion.
*Remember, Kick-Starter is all or nothing. If the goal of $18,000 is not reached all of the pledged money will be returned.
A digital copy of the documentary, "From The Bottom Up". Follow the guys from their first trip in January 2006 through their second in the Spring and Summer and their build up to the third. * Also included is every reward up to and including this reward.
A digital copy of the feature film, "Man On The Bottom" shot entirely in Cameroon, Africa. This will come after the funds dedicated to the last efforts of post production have been put to use. Watch this first and then watch the documentary "From The Bottom Up" * Also included is every reward up to and including this reward.
A limited edition, "Man On The Bottom" t-shirt. Ironically one of the things that came with the film equipment were boxes and boxes of t-shirts that would some day be promotional items for the film. Let us put them to good use finally. * Also included is every reward up to and including this reward.
A ticket to the U.S. screening of the feature film, "Man On The Bottom" This will undoubtedly take place on the East Coast either in or near Manhattan. But who knows, after the demand grows we would be willing to premiere our film in West African hubs like Houston, San Francisco or Washington D.C. * Also included is every reward up to and including this reward.
A full size movie poster for the film, "Man On The Bottom". Corey Howell, the director of photography on "Man On The Bottom" originated this poster on canvas. Blow us away and we'll consider sending you the original. * Also included is every reward up to and including this reward.
A "thank-you" credit, specifically designed for Kick-Starter contributors, for the full-length documentary "From The Bottom Up" as well as feature film, "Man On The Bottom". This credit will appear with a kick starter reference at the end of both films. * Also included is every reward up to and including this reward.
A 6-minute never before seen clip from the documentary, "From The Bottom Up". Watch us build the dramatic story that evolves through the trials and tribulations of shooting a feature film in Africa. The journey begins with a simple idea and evolves into an odyssey that tests their resolve through and through. And why not, and extra t-shirt with the MOTB logo. * Also included is every reward up to and including this reward.
A producer credit for the documentary "From The Bottom Up". As a producer for the documentary you will be given the opportunity to appear on camera to speak about the kickstarter portion of the project. As one of the producers of the documentary, you will receive exclusive updates from the crew as the journey continues. * Also included is every reward up to and including this reward.
The Grand Prize: Both a producer credit for the feature film, "Man On The Bottom," and an executive producer credit for the documentary, "From The Bottom Up." * Also included is every reward up to and including this reward.
If anyone would like to give more than $5,000 please contact us. We would love to get creative and come up with something beneficial to everyone
*Extra Special Prize* David Zulauf, one of the filmmakers, will get a tattoo of either the country of Cameroon or it's flag...or both for $12000. He currently has no tattoos but often draws on himself with a sharpie to prepare for one someday. Make this weird initiative come to fruition. * Also included is every reward up to and including this reward.